Proceedings of the Japan Academy, Series B
Online ISSN : 1349-2896
Print ISSN : 0386-2208
ISSN-L : 0386-2208
Dr. Tamio Yamakawa (1921–2018)
Kunihiko SUZUKI
Author information

2019 Volume 95 Issue 2 Pages 86-87


Dr. Tamio Yamakawa, a member of the Japan Academy, Section II, 7th Subsection, and the immediate past Editor-in-Chief of the Proceedings of the Japan Academy, Series B, passed away on October 7, 2018, only two weeks before his 97th birthday. He was recognized world-wide as one of the pioneers in the field of glycoscience. He had been a member of the Japan Academy for 30 years since 1987.

Dr. Yamakawa graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo, in 1944, close to the end of the second world war. Soon after graduation, Dr. Yamakawa started his research career at the Institute for Infectious Diseases, the University of Tokyo, during the very difficult time after the war without adequate laboratory facilities nor research money. As the luck had it for him, one of the important functions of the institute was to produce varieties of antisera against infectious agents for medical purposes by immunizing horses. The blood clot left after separating sera was considered a useless waste and was freely available. By analyzing the clot, Yamakawa discovered two novel glycolipids, one containing sialic acid and the other without sialic acid, and named them hematoside (obtained from horse blood) and globoside (obtained from human blood), respectively. They turned out to be important members of the series of sphingoglycolipids in the biosynthetic and degradative pathways and were also relevant to genetic diseases involving glycolipids. Yamakawa also characterized the chemical basis for the ABO blood groups, which until then had been defined according to the phenomenology of the agglutination reactions. Yamakawa discovered that the four blood groups could be separated by the terminal sugars of the glycolipids on the surface of the red cells, N-acetylgalactosamine (type A), galactose (type B), both of the sugars (type AB). or none of them (type O). These are due to differences in the genetic expression of respective sugar transferases. For these works, Yamakawa received the Asahi Prize in 1974, the Japan Academy Prize in 1976, was admitted to the Japan Academy in 1987 and was designated as a Person of Cultural Merit (“bunka kourousha”) in 2014. His scientific achievements as a pioneer of the field also brought Yamakawa many distinguished international prizes.

Another important accomplishment of Yamakawa is that he trained many excellent young researchers in the field of glycoscience through his tenure at the Institute for Infectious Diseases, as Professor of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo, and after retirement from the University of Tokyo, as Director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science. These young people have made important contributions bringing the glycoscience in Japan to the current internationally highly respected level.

Last but certainly not the least, Yamakawa’s enormous contribution to this journal, the Proceedings of Japan Academy, Series B, must be mentioned. Yamakawa succeeded Dr. Setsuro Ebashi as Editor-in-Chief for this journal in 2004. Immediately he set up a new Editorial Board consisting of active members of the Academy, solicited manuscripts from established scientists in and out of the Academy, established a rigorous editorial evaluation system including outside reviewers, all aiming at raising the standard of the journal as a multidisciplinary international scientific journal. Some of the concrete steps he took to promote the journal include publication of the PJA-B Newsletter, the free open access of its content online, listing in the PubMed database, and introduction of the new more attractive journal cover in color. We often heard him say, “this is my last service to science”. We are all grateful to Yamakawa and say with a great regret, “good bye”.

Kunihiko Suzuki

Executive Editor, PJA-B

© 2019 The Japan Academy